“Hiring extras in Mongolia is surprisingly inexpensive!”

This Russian film, which could just as easily be called The Young Genghis Khan Chronicles, wrong-headedly tries to frame the action inside a love story between Li'l Genghis, known as Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano, charismatic and compelling), and his mate, Börte (Khulan Chuluun, beautiful but otherwise unmemorable). But when your protagonist is responsible for fathering half of a percent of the modern world's male population through rape and conquest, any aspirations toward romance ring hollow. Casting Genghis Khan as a one-woman man is an unspeakably batshit-crazy maneuver.

Thankfully, other parts of the movie are truer to the spirit of its subject. Certain moments of violence are just as brutal as you'd expect from a Khan biopic—one crushed skull in particular should leave torture-porn fanatics breathing heavy—but a lot of the film is spent with Khan in captivity, plotting his escape. Rather than achieving the desired "epic" feel, these imprisonment scenes simply come across as stumbles in the plot of a good action movie.

And there is a lot of great action. The battle sequences, gorgeously filmed on some of the same barren landscape where Khan's early conquests took place, are elaborate and impressive. Rogier Stoffers, who delivered so-much-better-than-it-deserved cinematography in the Shia LaBeouf–starring Disturbia, makes the alien landscapes of Mongolia appear to be a beautiful act of violence unto themselves. A climactic battle between two armies is staggering in size and scope, and the old-school style of filming (the extras are actually there in front of the camera) brings an air of the classic movie epic to the proceedings. Too bad half of Mongol is wasted on the portrayal of a lovelorn Young Genghis.